Friday, May 16, 2008

Sybase Classic Friday: A Long Hard Slog

Perhaps the biggest news coming out of the now-suspended second round of the Sybase Classic is that Hee-Won Han and Karen Stupples have withdrawn from the tournament (after shooting an opening-round 75 and dealing for months now with being on the road a hemisphere away from her infant son, I don't blame Han, and Stupples is travelling with her relatively newborn baby, so why not get more quality time?).

Nothing against the people from the morning groups who had been playing well in the rain (Catriona Matthew is a mudder as well as a mother, apparently, and has caught Rachel Hetherington for the lead at -6 with 11 holes to play for them, while bogeys on the 6th just dropped Pat Hurst and Song-Hee Kim back into a tie with Annika Sorenstam at -5, and Danielle Downey, Ji Young Oh, Alena Sharp, Meaghan Francella, Gloria Park, Guilia Sergas, Michelle Redman, and Na Yeon Choi were moving up the leaderboard just by being 1 or 2 under par on their rounds thus far), of course. Or even the ones just hanging on--like Ai Miyazato, who's hung tough at -3 through 27 holes, and Teresa Lu, whose bogey at 6 brought her back to -4 in the tournament but is still 3 shots ahead of her rookie friend and countrywoman Ya Ni Tseng. There are plenty of people who were doing much worse this morning.

It's just that some of the most compelling stories in the tournament can be found in the afternoon rounds:

  • The brewing and much-anticipated Ochoa-Sorenstam Clash of the Titans;
  • How Brittany Lang, Seon Hwa Lee, Morgan Pressel, Jee Young Lee respond to the fine play of fellow Junior Mints Lu, Miyazato, and Francella;
  • How Inbee Park, In-Kyung Kim, and Jane Park respond to the fine play of the resurgent Song-Hee Kim and Na On Min as well as the continuing struggles of Angela Park, still the leader of their Super Soph pack;
  • How Ya Ni Tseng and Momoko Ueda respond to the fine play of rookie rival Na Yeon Choi as well as the surprising performances thus far by fellow afternooners Carolina Llano, Anna Rawson, and Eunjung Yi;
  • Whether Candie Kung, Carin Koch, Karrie Webb and Hee Young Park have the motivation, focus, and game to fight their way onto the right side of the cut line.

Whether we'll actually see how any of these pan out this afternoon is an open question....

[Update 1 (2:13 pm): Still no golf, but a pretty good profile of Ya Ni Tseng in USA Today. Doesn't quite capture her personality, but not bad.]

[Update 2 (3:52 pm): Looks like the last sentence of my post was unfortunately prophetic. The LPGA has announced they're wiping Friday's round from the record books and starting play afresh tomorrow--and reducing the event to 54 holes. I really don't understand these kinds of decisions. The weather forecast for the weekend wasn't all that horrible and there's nothing wrong with having a tournament continue onto a Monday. Even if they felt it was unfair to the people in the morning groups to have their horrible starts to their rounds make making the cut impossible, why not just erase today and finish the tournament on a Monday? It's just as unfair to those who didn't go low Thursday to reduce a 72-hole event to a 54-hole one. And it's not like it's that hard to travel from Clifton to Corning. How is the LPGA going to get taken more seriously if they don't take themselves seriously enough to do what it takes to make a 72-hole event a 72-hole event?]

[Update 3 (3:58 pm): The LPGA has got Hound Dog riled up. Bad move! Bad LPGA!]

[Update 4 (5/17/08, 5:45 am): Here's the LPGA's explanation, in a nutshell, first on the erasing of the rounds in play and next on the reduction to 54 holes, with commentary.

Sue Witters argued that neither tv nor the decision not to declare lift, clean, and play conditions Friday in anticipation of bad weather was a factor (because it rained much harder than the forecasts indicated), but that the round was wiped because conditions would be so different between yesterday (soaking by the end of the morning, with 3 greens unplayable and another 3 close to it) and today (after a projected 12 hours of drying) that it would be unfair to the players in yesterday's morning groups relative to the afternoon groups who would be playing in basically fine conditions.

This sounds strange to me: no one said they ought to erase rounds in The Players Championship when the wind changed dramatically between the morning and the afternoon, or in this week's PGA event where the afternoon groups from the first round not only encountered much worse conditions than the morning ones, but also had to deal with worse morning conditions the next day. So it seems to me the lift, clean, and place issue is the core one. Apparently the course isn't going to dry off enough so that they could avoid playing it today, which does introduce the problem of the same player playing the same round under two different sets of rules--much different from the players in the afternoon groups, who would only be playing under the one set of rules. That seems to me to be the real equity issue. Witters would have been better off just stating that the unexpectedly long and hard rain got them into this mess with lift, clean, and place.

Witters spent much less time on the bigger issue to me: the decision to turn a 72-holes "winner's event" with a $2M purse into a 54-hole tournament. Basically she pointed out that the weather forecast for Sunday is not good and left it at that. The reporters present didn't press her on this non-answer; nobody asked the obvious follow-up question, "So there's a chance this could end up being a 36-hole event?" or the follow-up to that one, "If there are contingency plans for a Monday finish in place, why not simply plan for one and keep this significant tournament a 72-hole event?" Yeesh.]

[Update 5 (6:05 am): Tom Canavan of the AP accepts and disseminates the LPGA's party line, but manages to add some good details on Rachel Hetherington's struggles into his story. Strangely, he makes nothing of the fact he notes in his closing paragraph that the last such decision occurred in 2006 at this very tournament. Apparently there's a Sybase Classic tradition of bad weather reducing the event to 54 holes, but why should they continue it now that it's a "winner's event"?]

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